‘Don’t worry, you’ll get there soon enough’ and ‘If it’s worth getting, it’s worth waiting for’ were among the many platitudes that kept me going whilst trying to get a job in publishing.
Having graduated in 2011, with a BA Hons in American Literature and Creative Writing, there was nothing I really wanted to do more than work in publishing, even though I’d had little experience of it. I did know that it wasn’t all Daniel Cleaver and see-through tops, though.
Sadly, university doesn’t really prep you for the hard slog that is getting your first job. You have to equip and motivate yourself to actively seek things out; being in publishing is a very proactive career path and, almost always, starts with interning or work experience. There is one thing I would go back and tell University Emma: do some early internships during university holidays, it’ll help in the long run and allow you to get where you want to be faster than the two years it took Graduate Emma.
In the last ten years or so, it seems that publishing has become a really desirable career. And quite rightly – it’s hugely exciting, constantly evolving and pretty darn wonderful. I started interning immediately after graduating with a lovely boutique literary agency based in Pimlico with authors such as Andy Stanton and Yvvette Edwards on the books.
The two months turned into three months and I was absolutely hooked. I even got to work with an author on a very special teen book which I submitted to publishers (not under my own name) and it was signed up for a three book deal. Since then the book has been shortlisted for a national book award! It was an incredibly special feeling and one that has stayed with me throughout.
I sailed out on a high into a second internship in another agency, based near Carnaby Street, and quickly realised I had picked up a lot more than I thought, or even realised. As a slightly bigger agency with an in-house foreign rights team, it allowed me to experience another exciting side of agency life.
After that was finished, I went to a children’s publishers where I spent time (again in a small team) with all the different departments and got a feel for how publishers work.
Shortly afterwards, I did something slightly different to be able to fund future internships, and managed a restaurant which turned into an 18 month stint. During that time, I also interned in the publicity department of a huge publishers and in the editorial department of another children’s publishers.
I finally left my restaurant job in May this year, having decided to take a leap of faith and move to London. I was asked to return to my very first internship to help out part-time and loved being back in the loop at an agency again.
When that finished I went to a scouting agency, my very first experience of this rather secret sector of publishing, and enjoyed every minute. It was very busy and involved huge amounts of reading, which doubled by the time Frankfurt Book Fair came around. I also really loved the foreign rights aspect – I attended an international school for seven years so it almost felt like home; I’ve always been drawn to international affairs. After a hectic three weeks of preparation, my colleagues descended on Frankfurt Book Fair and I stayed behind to look after the office. Being on my own during that time really proved how far I’d come and how much experience I’d earned.
During the two years I spent looking for a job post-graduation I accrued 25 interviews and 25 rejection emails, with some more helpful than others. I laughed, I cried, I hoped. I had some very near misses, including getting down to the last two of 300 applicants at Penguin as well as some flat out ‘We know you’re not right’s . Some of the time it was hard to remain positive in such a competitive environment, and having received mostly positive feedback from my interviewers it was hard to see where I was going wrong. There was only one thing I could do and that was to carry on.
With internships becoming just as sought after as actual jobs, I felt the end was nigh and I might have to give into encouragement to find a job in another sector. But, I’m no quitter, and I kept going.
It proved to be worth every moment when, one day in rainy October, the lovely Clare and Mary interviewed me for the role of Rights Assistant at Darley Anderson. And I was offered the job.
Entirely surreally, that day feels quite blurry and nothing felt cemented until I’d had my first day here. It still didn’t quite feel real that after two years I’d secured a job in exactly what I wanted to do and at an agency – somewhere I knew I was destined for. Having settled in now, I’m having a great time and feel very lucky to be part of such a fantastic agency with a brilliant and supportive team.
So, to all you hardy interns and people looking for first jobs in publishing, my tips are:
- Be an enthusiastic intern. Help out where you can and never forget to smile, even if it’s only photocopying. You don’t know who is watching.
- Prove to employers why they should hire you – get involved in things that demonstrate your passion for publishing i.e. blog on the side, volunteer with local libraries or reading groups, set up a book club, network. You need to set yourself apart from the other hundreds of people who probably have similar experience.
- If you haven’t already, join Twitter. Invaluable, invaluable, invaluable. You can follow the right people, read the right things and hear about things that you wouldn’t necessarily have access to otherwise.
- Read, read, read. You need to demonstrate that you know what’s out there. Why should a publisher hire you for a children’s book role if you have no experience of the market, or what even makes a good book?
- Do your research. Look at what an agency/publisher does, who their big clients are, what they specialise in, what’s important to them.
- NEVER GIVE UP. It’s a long game, play it and you’ll reap the rewards.
Emma often tweets about entry-level publishing jobs @MsEmmaWinter and she also blogs at: emmareadsstories.wordpress.com